Argility GCP Loop partnership

Staying In The Loop – How A South African Tech Startup Is Leveraging Google Cloud To Optimize Its Processes

Have you ever heard of the ‘last mile’ in logistics? In a product’s journey from the warehouse to your door, the last mile is the final stage in the process. Not only is it the hardest to get right, and the most time-consuming leg of product delivery, it’s also the most expensive, reportedly accounting for around 50% of total shipping costs. If you’ve ever waited hours for a package that was “out for delivery”, you’ll understand exactly how inefficient this final step can be.

Luckily for the industry, and for customers, a number of new and emerging tools and technologies are being developed and deployed to improve last mile delivery. These solutions make smarter and simpler deliveries possible. Solutions like Loop, a delivery management app that is optimizing and shaking up the logistics space by improving the interactions between everyone across the supply chain – from the business and the driver, to the end customer.

Loop was founded by Kimberley Taylor, who came up with the idea for the business while completing a university assignment. She was asked to solve the traditional travelling salesman problem– the salesman has to visit every city on a list starting from a particular location and ending at the start location.

The challenge is to minimize the length of the trip by finding the most efficient route. Solving this route optimization problem opened the door for Taylor to ask even more questions about the visibility and communication issues that exist within the delivery space. And she immediately knew that there were a number of problems that needed to be solved.

Despite describing herself as a “non- technical founder”, Taylor wanted to create a ‘piece of tech’ to help the industry improve their operations and streamline these processes. When looking for the right solution to bring her idea to life, she was introduced to Google Cloud Platform (or GCP) by the development house she was working with at the time and quickly realized just how well-suited GCP’s tools and technologies were to her needs.

“To be honest, I didn’t really know any better back then, but in hindsight, I’m insanely grateful for the recommendation because, from the beginning, GCP was very easy to use and intuitive for someone like me who isn’t very technical,” she explains. “I think that this was just one of those steps on my journey where I got a bit of luck – I met the right people and found the right tools.”

Starting out in the fast food and on-demand space, Taylor learned a lot about the difference between what she dubs ‘difficult’ and ‘easy’ logistics.

“I quite naively thought that fast food was easy logistics but I was very wrong because you have such a short amount of time to do a delivery and there really is very little room for error,” she says.

But Taylor is quick to note that this was actually a huge blessing in disguise because it meant that the Loop platform had to offer real-time data capabilities, as well as greater visibility and scalability from the very beginning. Delivering on these requirements was made possible, in large part, by GCP.

For her, the different Google Maps APIs have proved incredibly helpful because it allows Loop to access live traffic and distance data in real-time from anywhere around the world; the alternative would be to build and source its own database, which would have prevented Loop from getting to market as efficiently as it did.

All of the data powering the platform is stored on BigQuery, Google’s data analytics warehouse. It allows them to analyze and better understand the massive amount of logistics and customer data it generates and captures each day. In addition, Taylor leveraged Looker Studio to bring data together and create customizable and informative reports and dashboards; a capability she had promised to a client early on in her entrepreneurship journey.

“When you’re selling and you’ve never built a piece of tech before, you often promise more than you should,” she says. In Taylor’s case, she told a client that Loop could provide advanced data analytics capabilities, with dashboards to showcase what the data meant, but she wasn’t sure how to actually deliver on this promise. “Honestly, Looker Studio was the most amazing tool,” she says, noting that she has witnessed the tool grow and evolve into something even more powerful over the course of the seven years she’s been using it.

“I’m not a developer but because the Google platform is so intuitive and easy to use, I could go into the backend and look at error logs without having to bug the developers every time I had a question. The process of using GCP has been insanely empowering for me.”

So, how does Argility, part of the Smollan Data and Tech Cluster and a top Google analytics partner through Digicloud Africa, come into all this?

Having successfully made a name for themselves in this space, Taylor and her team realized that they needed a little extra help growing and improving their processes, without dramatically increasing their costs. For Japie Saunders, Head of IT & Infrastructure at Argility, the challenge was to make sure that Loop has the right infrastructure in place and that the overall layout of the business is set up in a way that it can grow securely and fully comply with different regulations and requirements.

“Often, start-ups don’t have the know-how or the right guidance when it comes to something like security. This needs to be addressed before the business gets too big,” he says. “For Loop, this meant organizing projects using a clear hierarchy, with different tiers of staff allocated to different projects, so that they can refine access and only allow the right people to access certain information.”

Beyond this, Taylor notes that having a partner who really understands Google’s suite of products in detail, including security, has been invaluable. “We haven’t had this before,” she says. “Because they understand how to put things together in a smarter and more logical way, they are helping us to identify creative ways to up our efficiency and minimize our costs.”

According to Taylor, on average Loop sees a 20% reduction in kilometers driven with route optimization, i.e. determining the best sequence for the delivery of a series of orders. And when route optimization is combined with route planning – the step before route optimization which determines the best vehicle to use given the number and size of orders that need to be completed – this 20% increases to 30%.

Similarly, when you give customers greater visibility around where the driver is, you can reduce the amount of time they spend with a customer by 50%.

While Taylor acknowledges the power of digital solutions and technologies, she points out that tech for the sake of tech is just silly. “At the end of the day, it’s cool to have the best tech but you need to understand that people really want to make money or save money. They want results.” That is exactly what Loop delivers.

Markets can also find themselves becalmed from time to time, sometimes for years. Tweak the portfolio around the fringes then too, if necessary, but keep the bow pointed forward and wait for the market winds to pick up again.

Investment portfolios are lifelong vessels that do not demand constant attention. Staying the course and adhering to long- term goals is vital to ensuring financial stability and allowing investors to enjoy the sunset of their lives without the reliance on “two- minute noodles.”

Source: Forbes Africa

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Marko Salic CEO ATG

Google Cloud helps Argility boost SA retail competitiveness

Issued by DigiCloud

Argility Technology Group, a Digicloud Africa Google Cloud partner, is helping local retailers transform their operations, grow margins and become more competitive using solutions built on the Google Cloud.

Argility CTO Marko Salic says advanced digital technologies are key to enabling large retailers to overcome today’s top challenges. “Local retailers are grappling with supply chain disruptions and increasing supplier costs that erode their margins, so they have to find ways to make their operations more efficient. They also have to overcome the customer loyalty issue – modern consumers switch stores at the click of a button. Retailers know they need to improve customer experience to differentiate in a competitive market, but understanding what that means and actually achieving it can be difficult,” he says.

To help large retailers overcome these challenges, Argility has built software and technology to transform business and increase margins. “A 1% increase in revenue or reduction in costs is significant for retailers turning over billions of rand,” Salic notes. “Our technology is helping retailers achieve improvements of up to 6%.”

Argility solutions help retailers harness predictive and prescriptive analytics to process data at a massive scale, to support better decision-making and make processes more efficient. “It allows large retailers to innovate, become more competitive and improve margins by doing more with the same resources, or the same work with fewer resources,” he says.

Salic outlines Argility solutions designed to make predictive analytics easier for retailers.

PredictRetail is our AI-powered pricing, inventory, customer and sales analytics platform focused on high-value use cases of machine learning and predictive analytics for retailers and brands. Its PredictPrice module uses historical sales data, complemented by scraping and matching competitor prices, to analyse price elasticity of demand and determine optimal pricing strategies. It allows retailers to identify the sweet spot of what customers will be willing to pay,” he explains.

“The PredictInventory module helps forecast and segment more accurately, so retailers can more accurately predict what will sell in which store on which day, predict earlier when stock will run out and forecast which stock won’t be sold at all. The gains depend on the maturity of business, but for the vast majority that still rely on spreadsheets built up over decades, using machine learning algorithms for inventory prediction can improve accuracy by around 10%. PredictInventory can improve accuracy by 2%-5% for those using specialised inventory tools.”

The PredictCustomer module enables personalisation using a recommendation engine offering products customers are likely to want. Salic says recommendations – crucial for the success of retail giants such as Amazon – can be used to improve sales wherever organisations have customer data. “This could be through online shopping or loyalty programmes. With personalisation and recommendations, retailers can significantly enhance sales and the customer experience. In a recent implementation in India, our customer increased sales volumes by 6.3% based on personalisation.”

Argility says the Google Cloud, BigQuery enterprise data warehouse and the Vertex AI machine learning (ML) platform underpin the company’s ability to innovate and achieve faster time to value for its customers.

Salic says: “The entire platform has been developed as an extension of Google Cloud, using their data analytics tools and services. At the platform’s core is BigQuery, which hosts all our input and output data. The BigQuery TCO was lower than its competitors, and because it is a completely managed service, it allows us to focus on business requirements instead of managing infrastructure.”

“BigQuery is incredibly scalable. This is important for us because we work with massive volumes of data – tens of billions of rows per month.”

Another key advantage of BigQuery is that it uses SQL syntax, which meant that Argility’s team could lean on their decades of experience and get straight to work. “They didn’t need to retrain and reskill, they could just hit the ground running,” Salic says.

Argility uses Vertex AI to manage the end-to-end machine learning life cycle. Salic says: “We wanted one platform, a managed service we could deploy, and start implementing the business logic. So by combining these two platforms, we could do the job of 20 people with just 10, and we no longer needed large infrastructure teams. We shut down our two data centres and moved everything to the Google Cloud, resulting in significant savings. This has enabled us to become more competitive, develop and deploy solutions faster, and achieve faster time to value.”

Argility aims to continue harnessing Google innovation to improve its portfolio. For example, Salic says Google’s image recognition models could prove useful for the group’s Smollan business, which focuses on point-of-purchase retail solutions. “For big brands and retailers, merchandising is crucial. To ensure the shelf displays and pricing are correct, merchandisers and shelf packers take photos and feed them back to the servers; however, ensuring that the photos match the planograms can be complex and costly. Integrating this process with a Google model could simplify our processes significantly,” he says.

Source: IT Web

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Furnmart & Argility celebration

Furnmart & ATG – A 21-Year-Old and Ongoing Success Story

In 2001, Argility entered into one of its longest running client relationships with Furnmart.

The Argility Technology Group (ATG) – with a 35-year plus history as a leading software developer and supplier to the retail and supply chain sectors, has announced that 2022 will mark the 21st anniversary of its partnership with Furnmart.

Furnmart is a successful retailer of furniture, kitchen appliances, home entertainment and bedding. It operates stores under both the Furnmart and Homecorp brands across Botswana (56 stores), South Africa (50 stores) and Namibia (45 stores).

Shawn Wilsnach, ATG Java Divisional Manager, says the relationship has been both rewarding and highly successful. “It is an interesting history and timeline that spans over two decades with requirements changing as Furnmart grew and developed into the retail powerhouse it is today.

“In approximately 2010, Furnmart recognised the need for a browser-based system that incorporated existing functionality and proven stability, but that could accommodate both its current and future needs. This is when ATG presented its updated Java platform as a long-term future alternative to the original system and together both companies embarked on extensive development to customise the Java systems to Furnmart’s business requirements. Roll-out of that project was completed to all three countries in 2015,” says Wilsnach.

He highlights the fact that Furnmart stores process 133 different types of transactions on the Java system every month.

Wilsnach notes the successful implementation of the Java-based retail management and merchandising system provided enhanced functionality to enable the Furnmart group to continue competing successfully well into the future.

This was part of the overall value proposition of the solution implemented by ATG, which also included:

  • Data that is easily accessible for use by other applications used in the Furnmart Retail ecosystem;
  • Services orientated architecture (SOA) that enables easy integration with third-party applications;
  • Browser-based technology that enables remote access across the business; and
  • The end-to-end solution was presented on a software as a service (SaaS) – always an attractive billing model with monthly subscription and support fees, and ongoing customised development as required.

Argility designed the system to retain Furnmart’s existing distributed architecture. “Each store has its own servers to enable it to continue trading regardless of whether or not it has network connectivity. When online, these servers replicate back to head office every hour. It also facilitates a full retail and credit solution, and is based on Argility’s deep understanding of, and experience in, the retail business,” he adds.

The Java solution provides additional key benefits to Furnmart. “Data has emerged as a key competitive differentiator in today’s environment because we now have sophisticated new generation analytics capabilities, with artificial intelligence well on its way to becoming mainstream. Furnmart now has an end-to-end system with readily accessible data that can interface with other systems. Argility’s Java solution also provides easy online, real-time interfaces to third-party systems through web services – a growing requirement in the face of the rapidly increasing demand to integrate across multiple specialised systems seamlessly.”

In a retail world where enhanced customer service is the name of the game, Wilsnach highlights the positive outcomes of this long-term relationship for Furnmart as:

  • Exceptional, online services to Furnmart customers;
  • Accessible, valuable customer and trading data;
  • Enhanced efficiencies; and
  • Superior decision-making based on sophisticated, deep analytics.

“Furnmart’s unique business model meant it was impossible for us to simply use an off-the-shelf application,” says Theo Kukard, General Manager: IT at Furnmart. “A specific issue is the fact that, like furniture retailers across the sub-continent, we also act as credit providers to our customers, something that you don’t find elsewhere in the world. Furnmart’s customer-centricity drives us to ensure that we are always evolving in order to provide positive customer experiences at every touch point.

“We have continued to partner with Argility because they have a deep understanding of the furniture retail business embedded in their solutions and skilled, dedicated teams who provide invaluable support and rapid development of enhancements and new features,” says Kukard.

Argility and Furnmart continue to strengthen their partnership, working closely together to explore new ways of taking full advantage of the implemented technologies with the goal of helping Furnmart expand its highly successful business. This includes ongoing engagement with the Furnmart executive team providing guidance on accelerating digital transformation, enhanced business efficiencies through best-of-breed tech stacks and improved customer engagement.

Source: IT Web

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Japie Saunders IS Manager | Cloud & Network Architect ATG

Argility Technology Group announces two more Google partnerships

The group’s strategic focus on Google is strengthened.

The Argility Technology Group (ATG), a leading developer of innovative software and technology solutions for the retail and supply chain sectors, has added Google Cloud Partner and Google Workspace Partner to its Google Build Partner certification.

“This move consolidates ATG’s strategy to focus on developing solutions on the Google Cloud Platform, and expands the range of services ATG can offer,” says Japie Saunders, IS Manager and Cloud Architect at ATG. “Becoming a Google Cloud Partner means that we can access the whole Google suite, which has an extensive range of products that can be used to create solutions that really solve the business challenges faced by our clients,” he says. “In similar vein, the Google Workspace partnership also opens up the full range of Google’s productivity and collaboration tools. These will allow ATG to craft powerful solutions that enable our clients to work together easily and effectively, something that’s become even more important since the pandemic turned the work environment upside down.”

Saunders says achieving these certifications is an important milestone in ATG’s drive to develop a growing range of cloud-based solutions. Very early on, ATG realised that cloud offered businesses a game-changing way to access a range of technologies that would enable them to make the shift to a data-centric, highly personalised digital commerce experience with reduced risk and quicker implementation times. The cloud model also makes it much easier to manage costs, a key issue for organisations in a cost-constrained environment.

ATG has elected to base its solutions exclusively on Google Cloud Platform for a number of reasons, not least of which is access to industry-leading artificial intelligence and machine learning tools that can be easily integrated into its solutions. Google’s pioneering of Kubernetes is another plus, as is the quality and responsiveness of Google’s teams, both global and local.

“Our growing partnership with Google is a key strategy in our quest to continue developing technology solutions that will help retail and supply chain organisations digitally transform their businesses – it is vital they do so to compete successfully in an increasingly virtual world. We have the industry insight and experience to create these solutions and partnering with Google enables us to develop and implement them more quickly and cost-effectively,” concludes Saunders.

Source: IT Web

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